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'We should train teachers to spot the first signs of forced marriage'

Teachers need to feel confident enough to report and then effectively support students who may be affected or at risk of forced marriage

Ofsted says that more outstanding leaders are needed to drive up standards in 'stuck' schools

Teachers need to feel confident enough to report and then effectively support students who may be affected or at risk of forced marriage

The Home Office’s consultation paper on whether or not it should be mandatory for teachers to report forced marriages is very, very welcome. At EduCare, and at charities such as Karma Nirvana, it’s something that we’ve been calling for for years.

Protection laws regarding forced marriage aren’t new: from June 2014, it’s been a criminal offence to force someone to marry in England and Wales. Civil law has also been strengthened by making it a criminal offence to breach a Forced Marriage Protection Order.

The mandatory duty would echo the responsibilities associated with other forms of honour-based abuse like those that require teachers in England and Wales to report ‘known’ cases of FGM in under-18s which they identify in the course of their professional work to the police.

However, despite these laws, forced marriage – like FGM – has legacy issues around reporting.

It takes any victim immense courage to report abuse. In honour-based abuse, the victim will often have more than one abuser from within their close or wider family or community network. This results in increased isolation which is one of the biggest problems facing those trapped in, or under threat of, forced marriage. It is important to recognise that nationally, this abuse is under-reported, and reported numbers only reflect the “tip of the iceberg”.

Forced marriage is not a problem specific to one country or culture. Since the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) was established in 2005, they have handled cases related to 90 countries across Asia, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and North America. In 2017, the FMU gave advice or support to 1,196 cases, of which, 125 cases involved victims who had a learning disability.

Introducing mandatory reporting duty for teachers and healthcare professionals can only help improve these statics and improve the duty of care provided to those affected by forced marriage and honour-based abuse.

Raising awareness of honour-based abuse and forced marriage in education, particularly secondary schools, is essential to preventing it. Many teenage victims are confused by what their family and community demands of them and may feel emotionally conflicted or guilty about going against their culture, religion, and/or tradition.

It is important to remind the young person about their rights and that forced marriage is a criminal offence. Therefore, a teacher’s role, or indeed anyone who works with children and young people, is to provide reassurance and support.

Training is key. Those working with young people need to feel confident, supported, and empowered in order to effectively help those that might be affected or at risk of honour-based abuse.

Commander Ivan Balhatchet, National Police Chiefs' council lead on honour-based abuse (HBA), forced marriage and female genital mutilation, recently commented:

"Honour-based abuse, which constitutes an array of criminal offences including forced marriage, are serious violations of human rights, often affecting young, vulnerable girls and women. It is imperative that we have training and guidance to equip those who have contact with young people to better understand the concealed criminal behaviours and child abuse that is taking place.

"It is only by identifying and understanding HBA will society be able to improve our outlook to appreciate the real difficulties victims find themselves in, alienated by those who are supposed to care for them. We all need to do so much more to properly safeguard the most vulnerable in our society."

Dawn Jotham is a pastoral care specialist with EduCare, experts in safeguarding and duty-of-care training. 

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